Justin Tuck Serving Role as Oakland Raiders Mentor
By Chase Ruttig
Justin Tuck left the New York Giants this offseason and came to the Oakland Raiders with a wealth of experience from winning two Super Bowls during his career in New York, learning from Hall of Fame defensive end Michael Strahan to become one of the league’s better pass rushers during the glory days with the Giants when they upset the Patriots in two Super Bowls. That experience in winning championships and what it takes to get to that level is a big reason why general manager Reggie McKenzie brought in Tuck on a low risk deal during free agency, giving the Raiders a player who can make a big play from time to time while also coaching up the young players on the team as a locker room leader.
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Through 10 games in his Raiders career, Tuck hasn’t quite reached the heights on the field that he has expected of himself, but he has helped nurture the progression of the team’s fifth overall pick in Khalil Mack. An outside linebacker/pass rusher who has been one of the best defensive rookies in the league. Tuck, who has two sacks to his name to make his season an average one despite not being a great, has been placed near Mack in the locker room by interim head coach Tony Sparano and has helped guide the rookie through his first season in the NFL.
"Tuck, one of a handful of veteran free agents signed by the Raiders in the offseason for their leadership and experience, has two sacks and 27 tackles — not nearly what the team had hoped for. His work in mentoring Mack, however, has been priceless.That’s why when the coaching staff laid out its plans for where each player would fit in the locker room, the Raiders made it a point to put Mack next to Tuck.“It’s not a coincidence,” Oakland interim coach Tony Sparano said. “It was something that was thought out. I had a vision for people that I wanted around people and what you’re trying to do is stimulate conversation within the locker room, and conversation where a young player might learn from somebody else. In that situation it was absolutely, 100 percent, ‘Let’s find a way to get him near Justin,’ because that’s a conversation that you want to take place every day. Those guys sit in there talking about football and Khalil being able to learn a little something from a veteran player like that, and that’s why I did what I did.”"
That leadership role is why it is likely that Tuck will stay around for 2015 despite having a contract that the Raiders can opt out of for little dead money. Able to contribute on the field still when a big play is needed (two sacks is better than nothing), Tuck’s experience as well as ability to share those experiences to help a rookie out of a small school in Mack is an extremely underrated one. With an improved Raiders defense showing in recent weeks, including a big play from Tuck in intercepting Peyton Manning and Khalil Mack earning his first sack against the Chargers last Sunday, the addition of Tuck has been better than perceived. If the two time Super Bowl champion can help Mack develop into one of the best outside linebackers in the league, his contract will end up being worth every penny.